So it’s one conversation. It’s 30 minutes. But it connects to so many other things. More and more, I realize there is this backlog of life to process. Now connects to other things. It connects to the past—the distant past and the recent past. It connects to other things I know and to what I believe. When I feel stressed, I stop processing even the present. The whole system shuts down. But even when I am not stressed, the present still connects to more things that I can process in the here and now, because it’s been something like 40 years of my life. I’ve processed bits and pieces here and there, but it’s like there are still these huge boxes that need to be gone through and sorted every single day.

Yesteday, I talked to someone, however briefly, about Nata, and there is much more to sort than usual.

The first thing is that I told. I told someone something I wasn’t supposed to tell. It is one thing to write about it, to chat with friends about it, to explain it in an email. But only once before have I said anything about her death to anyone in front of me.

So when I began to shake telling C about it, it’s because I was afraid. I was afraid to tell. I was still afraid of Yuri. Part of what has to be processed is just that I told. I told and the earth did not open up. Yuri did not rise up from hell or wherever he is and use his razor wire whip to kill me. I just sat there. And after a while C said, “Sorry, Ma’am,” with a slightly pained look on her face.

I told and nothing happened. It is this very clear indication that I think penetrated through to more of me than usual that Yuri’s power is not as limitless as it felt at the time, nor was it ever as limitless as he would have liked it to be.

It is safe for me to say she is dead, and maybe that also means it is safe for me to know she is dead, because a part of who I might be afraid to tell about her death is myself. Maybe no one can know she is dead, including me.

And that seems to open up a flood of grief. What it really means is I am struck by an enormous sense of aloneness. I’ve written about this before: the difference in how it feels to be in the world with her alive and with her dead is enormous. It’s the Grand Canyon. When she was alive, I was so intimately connected to someone. Partly because it was like having a family, and partly because of the trauma bond. It was just so intense. Without her, I feel very alone, and that has made it hard to process the grief at all. The aloneness overshadows the sense of loss. It’s as though, without her, I don’t even feel myself anymore, because a part of how it felt to be me for so many years involved that sense of intimate connection. Without that connection, life feels utterly bewildering.

So I think a part of what was difficult to process about talking with C is that sense of aloneness. I told C, however briefly, that Nata was dead, and I got that sense of aloneness because I could really take in the fact of Nata’s death. And then also I felt the aloneness because I was doing something I probably wouldn’t have done if Nata were still alive. Nata and I wouldn’t be here together. I don’t know what we would have done, but the whole path of my life would have been different. I would have been focused on building a life with Nata. I wouldn’t be in Country X. I wouldn’t be wondering how I can help C find time to study if she isn’t able to go to boarding school. The aloneness is catastrophic. It’s a catastrophic loss of my identity. Before now, I couldn’t process it. It came out, and I kept finding ways to work around it, just so that I could process the loss of Nata as a person for me.

I didn’t realize it, but this is a part of what I have been processing all week. Bits of me are replaying my relationship with Nata—or parts of it—as I interact with C. And I know as this is happening that it’s totally unhealthy. I have to conceal this from C and make sure that the replaying is, as much as possible, in my own mind. For example, I feel constantly worried about C’s safety. That’s the trauma bond replaying itself. C is fine, but I must know where she is. If she is late to assembly, I am beside myself. At first, I didn’t know which class she was in, and I had to find that out, so that I could reassure myself she was in there, listening to the teacher, and all was well. But that is my need to know where Nata was, to know that she was safe as much as possible, because she really was in constant danger, and the danger she was in terrified me.

I have been noticing this, that this is the trauma bond playing out in the present, and I have just been noting that it’s wildly uncomfortable for other people. It puts them inside my pressure cooker—the pressure cooker that ought to have cooled off by now and hasn’t—and it doesn’t feel very nice. C is not uncomfortable—not that I can tell—but I am sure she would be if I didn’t conceal this from her.

What it means is that regardless of my relationships now, they are going to feel very different to me than being with Nata. I am always going to be much more alone, because they aren’t going to be trauma bonds, and they aren’t going to be as intense. It’s not so much that it feels scary to be this alone, but that I feel unrecognizable. It’s bewildering.

That’s one piece, or I guess two pieces. Even three. The fear of speaking, reality of the loss, the aloneness.

And then there is a fourth piece, which is why do I want to help C so badly? I do, I really, really do. Some of it is just C. As I’ve spoken to her more over the last month, I’ve started to see her in a more differentiated way. She is more and more clearly her own person in my mind and not just someone who reminds me of the girl who picked me up and carried me out of the warehouse where Laila’s body lay dismembered.

C is a good person. That is what stands out to me. She’s not trying to be good, she just is that way. She acts very much on instinct, and her instinct is to be responsible, to help, and to work together as a team with other people to get things done. She’s not perfect, but she’s good and she’s good in a way that is very striking compared to the ordinary goodness of other students. I don’t know why it is striking, but it is striking. It was striking to me last year, but I didn’t think about it. I voted for her for school captain because of that, but I was busy with my own thoughts, and didn’t take that anywhere further.

But it’s also that all the girls who worked alongside me in Yuri’s brothel were there because they had been deprived of opportunities—maybe not all of them, but most of them. They wanted opportunities, and Yuri or someone else, whoever Yuri bought them from, promised them opportunities.

That’s what C wants. She wants opportunity. And I have had so many.

I think there is a grief about that in my mind, a kind of global grief rather than a specific grief. Girls don’t get opportunities, and because of that they find themselves trapped in all kinds of situations they wouldn’t otherwise be in. The girls I knew were conned into being trafficked for sex. Maybe someone else settles for an abusive marriage, because there is at first the promise at first that someone will at least be kind to there, or in worse situation, that they can at least eat. Girls just get shitty choices sometimes, and maybe C’s won’t be shitty, but I can see she doesn’t want her mother’s life. She doesn’t want looking after 6 children and after a man she thought would love her and maybe now doesn’t.

C is one person, but it’s one person with a few more choices. If she can have opportunities, then there is one thing, one life, that is better.

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